What Is the Purpose of the Electoral College?

Getty Images/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Electoral College is a process that creates a buffer between a president’s election through Congress and the vote of the American people. It was established by the nation’s Founding Fathers.

The Electoral College was created with the intent of giving all states, and therefore their citizens, an equal say in the nation’s matters, regardless of state size. The Electoral College was initially created by the 13 colonies, as they wished to vest power in themselves without influence or control by a central government. At the time of its creation, the nation struggled with a distrust of large government and the desire among its citizens to fairly elect a president. The Electoral College was seen as a compromise that promoted democracy while still allowing the government to function.

How it Works

The Electoral College refers to the process of selecting a president. The College contains 538 electors, and it requires a majority vote of 270 for a president to be elected. Each state receives an allotment of electors equal to its number of Congressional delegates. This translates to one for each member of the House of Representatives and two for the state’s senators. The Electoral College provides equal rights to the District of Columbia through the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution. The Amendment grants the District of Columbia three electors. It also considers the district a state for voting purposes. In every state, each presidential candidate has a designated electoral group. Electors are usually designated based on political party. However, state laws vary in the elector selection process, and in determining what rights and responsibilities they can have.

State Rules

The process of selecting a president in the United States takes place every four years. It is traditionally held on the first Monday of November in the election year. When people go to the polls to vote for their choice of presidential candidate, they are actually helping to select an elector for their state. These electors then represent their state during the final presidential election. State laws differ on the amount of aid that electors can give to presidential candidates. Most states have an all-or-nothing system where all electors are assigned to the prevailing presidential candidate. Others, however, like Maine and Nebraska, distribute the weight of electors evenly among candidates.

The End Result

Following votes for the presidential candidate, electors convene in December to cast their votes for the president and vice presidential candidate of their choice. Each state records its electors’ votes on a Certificate of Vote, which is sent to Congress as part of the official records collection and maintenance process. On January 6th of the next year, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate meet to count the votes. When results are tallied, the active vice president, who acts as the President of the Senate, officially oversees the election process. He or she officially announces which candidates have been selected as the next president and vice president to lead the nation. If all goes well, the incoming president is sworn into office on January 20th.

Over time, the Electoral College has been changed by statutory amendments. These changes, enacted at the state and federal levels, have affected the timing and process for choosing a presidential candidate, but they have not altered the basic structure or intent of the Electoral College.